Seven out of ten Americans are missing at least one tooth due to decay, periodontal (gum) disease or injury. Unfortunately, the consequences go far beyond a missing tooth — the loss of even one could set in motion a cascade of problems.
Perhaps the most damaging of these problems is bone loss. Like other living tissue, bone has a life cycle — older cells dissolve (resorb) into the body and are replaced by fresher cells. This growth cycle in the jawbone receives stimulation from forces generated by teeth when we chew or bite. If a tooth is no longer present to provide this stimulation, the affected bone cells won't regenerate at a healthy rate. Over time this causes the volume of bone to diminish, as much as 25% the first year after tooth loss.
The void left by a missing tooth can also adversely affect remaining teeth. Teeth are held in place by a tough but elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament that lies between the tooth and the bone. The ligament enables teeth to move gradually in response to mouth changes so that the teeth remain tightly aligned with each other. When there's a gap from a missing tooth, this tendency will cause the teeth on either side to move (or “drift”) toward the open space. Although a natural phenomena, it can result in a malocclusion (poor bite).
That's why it's important to replace a missing tooth with a life-like replica — not just for appearance's sake, but also to improve function and prevent the rise of these other problems. While many options exist (from removable dentures to fixed bridges) the choice most preferred by dentists and patients is the dental implant.
An implant replaces the tooth root as well as the crown, because it's imbedded securely into the jawbone. Because of a natural affinity with titanium, the principal metal used in implants, bone cells will grow to its surface. Not only will this anchor the implant more securely, it will slow or even stop bone loss.
If you have a missing tooth, you should visit us as soon as possible to consider your options for a replacement. A new tooth will help stop even greater problems from occurring.
If you would like more information on effects and treatment of tooth loss, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”